Religion, Law & Sports

Sports tourism could be crushed if Louisiana adopts “religious freedom” bill similar to Indiana, Arkansas.

This year’s legislative session begins April 13. Among the many pieces that will be considered is an update to the state’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. The update adds wording similar to bills recently passed in Indiana and Arkansas, which have drawn the consternation of modern, civil society, including numerous civil rights groups, businesses and organizations, including the NCAA.

If you love New Orleans and want it to be seen among the upper echelon of American cities, start squawking to our state’s leaders now. We don’t need nor want this bill and the negative attention and financial impact it will bring the city and state.

The “religious protections” bills passed in Indiana and Arkansas over the past weeks are unique in that they include legal protections for businesses in addition to individuals. Those who support these measures argue business owners may, based on their religious beliefs, deny services to individuals without repercussion. Those individuals denied service are generally homosexual.

Opponents say the measures allow for legal discrimination based on a narrow religious interpretation. They’re right. Similar arguments have been used for centuries by white supremacists in this country to encode racial minorities into second-class citizenship. No matter the era, it’s wrong.

Discrimination, or any whiff of it, doesn’t sit well with businesses and organizations at the national level. NCAA president and former LSU chancellor Mark Emmert has already said Indiana’s law would lead college sport’s governing body to reconsider future events in the state. And when Arizona failed to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, the NFL pulled Super Bowl XXVII from Tempe and awarded it to Pasadena, Calif. Upon approving the measure a few years later, Phoenix landed Super Bowl XXX.

New Orleans is no doubt a city financially dependent on tourism. We need to do all we can to roll out a red-carpet welcome to those visitors who want to come here to celebrate our culture, climate and events.

The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation says athletic events have had more than a $2 billion economic impact for the city and state over the past 26 years. The American sports culture is increasing steadily, and so is the pile of money available to be made by host cities through their events and franchises.

In previous columns and blog posts for Biz New Orleans, I’ve written about the increasing odds the Crescent City is facing in landing the “Big 3” American sporting events – the Super Bowl, the College Football National Championship and the Final Four. It is estimated that as many as 150 million Americans – nearly half of the country’s population – watch part of the broadcast of Big 3 events. The value of advertising that comes with the game telecast, not to mention the hype on major broadcast networks, cable, the web and social media before and after the game, is priceless for the city.

I’ve gone as far as to propose that city, state and regional leaders begin working on a plan for to replace the Superdome with a new $1 billion-plus stadium as an investment to keep New Orleans as one of the nation’s premier sporting destinations.

At this point, we need to do everything we can do to improve our chances of playing host to not only sporting events, but conventions, trade shows, and the like. Passing a religious protection bill would devastate the investments we have already committed to being a marquee sporting and tourism destination.

Categories: Legal, The Pennant Chase